In the wake of a series of smash-and-grab robberies at high-end retailers in the Bay Area and a shoplifting-related shooting that left a man dead in Los Angeles, Governor Gavin Newsom gave a press conference in LA and met with law enforcement to discuss the state's retail theft problem.
The occasion was also a public bill signing for AB 331, which is not a brand new bill but really just an extension of an existing law that targets organized retail theft. Under the law, thieves acting in concert with one more others can be charged more harshly — distinguishing organized thefts like the brazen handbag heists seen around the Bay Area from petty shoplifting offenses where an individual might be stealing out of basic need. The original law, as the Associated Press reports, was passed in 2018 and was allowed to lapse three weeks ago, on July 1.
"We need to hold folks to account, but we'll do it in a thoughtful and judicious way. We're not going back to the way things were in the ‘80s and ’90s At least not while I'm here. That said, we need to see more accountability, we need to see enforcement, and we need a commensurate commitment to address the reforms that I think many of us behind me embrace and have long embraced in California that have proven successful in this state," Newsom said at the press conference. And he added that the California Highway Patrol, which is assigned under the law to lead a task force to investigate and analyze retail theft, has not seen a lack of support from liberal prosecutors.
Californians should feel safe wherever they go.— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) July 21, 2021
Today, with law enforcement leaders & Big 13 Mayors, we signed #AB331 to keep @CHP_HQ’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force.
We are investing in public safety & reducing gun violence while tackling the root causes of crime. pic.twitter.com/YaO5SzcKpE
Newsom's press event comes amid heightening public outcry over retail thefts seen on the internet and on local news — and one week after a particularly tragic incident in which a Rite Aid employee was shot and killed while trying to intercept a shoplifter in L.A.'s Glassell Park neighborhood.
SFPD Chief Bill Scott was in L.A. for the press event, and he said, "The overall problem is a challenge — the brazenness of some of these crimes. When they see these things go viral, the perception of lawlessness, the perception that anything goes — that has to be overcome, too."
Speaking to KTVU, Scott reiterated what he said at a news conference with the mayor last week, noting that retail thefts are actually down in SF overall.
"But that doesn't matter," he said. "We need to take care of business."